OKLAHOMA CITY – Stan Turner awoke Tuesday to find that not only was his home without power, but an ice-coated tree limb had crashed into his classic Mustang. The only heat available for the house came from a fireplace, a wood-burning chimenea on the porch and a gas stove.
“I’ve been scrounging all the wood I can,” he said. “I’m going to get out there and get the bigger limbs down, but the wet weather is what’s making it so bad.”
Turner was among a million utility customers who were struggling without electricity in the nation’s midsection after a massive storm dropped sleet and freezing rain across much of Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Iowa. The system has been blamed for at least 24 deaths since it developed last weekend.
Glistening, ice-covered roads contributed to many of the deaths. Downed power lines caused dozens of fires in Oklahoma. And then there was the problem of staying warm after officials cautioned that electricity may not be restored for days, if not weeks.
“We have the upstairs fireplace going and the gas burners on the stove,” Turner’s wife, Joanie Wilson, said in the couple’s frigid home. “That’s it for heat. I’m getting the cider ready for later, and the Captain Morgan’s for later, later.”
The outage was the worst ever in Oklahoma, with nearly 600,000 homes and businesses without electricity Tuesday. Nearly 350,000 other customers were affected by outages in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Illinois.
The storm also caused extensive travel problems. About 560 flights were canceled at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, and hundreds of other flights were badly delayed.
Officials in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma had declared states of emergency. President Bush declared a federal emergency in Oklahoma on Tuesday, ordering government aid to supplement state and local efforts.